What if you were promised you would never have another BHD (Bad Hair Day)? What’s more, what if you never again had to wonder if your roots are showing?
Best of all, what if you took up a practice landing you smack dab in the ancient footsteps of generations of Jewish women?
Try covering your hair for a day.
I almost never think about the hat, cap or scarf under which most (not for the record all) of my hair is tucked. Nor would I be thinking (or writing) about it now had my JWA colleague Gabrielle Orcha not innocently written a thought-provoking blog post exploring Olympic competitors’ freedom of religious expression.
Way down at the bottom, Gabrielle challenged her reader with: “What if this were a Modern Orthodox woman who’s required to wear a wig or headscarf?”
I read that sentence then circled back and read it a second time and then a third. But no matter how many times I did, I couldn’t wrap my (modestly covered) head around the word “required.”
It struck me that no woman is required to cover her hair, something those of us who’ve taken up the practice mid-stream know well. It’s a tradition we’ve embraced that has nothing at all to do with someone else’s requirements.
It’s been seven years since this Woodstock veteran gave away her jeans, replaced her dishes and began grabbing a Red Sox cap just to fetch the mail.
Truth is, the moment you pull on your first hat is a celebration of something way deeper, a roof-to-chassis transformation in the way a Jewish woman both sees and lives her life.
It’s a lot like one of those Magic Eye prints so popular in the ‘90s. At first all you see is a waterfall and only if you can relax your eyes sufficiently does there emerge a roaring lion. Like the emerging realization that G-d’s is intimately involved in every bit of your life.
But hair-covering? Like separate seating in shul (another post for another day), that one flew in the face of all my years as a liberated woman (You’ve come a long way, baby… so why are you heading back?).
So much so that that I needed to spend some time soaking in the “why” of it. I asked a friend to learn some applicable Talmudic passages with me. And it stood to reason that there are some things that are private between wife and husband. But then why I wondered do so many divorced women (who are not by Jewish law ‘required’ to cover their hair) often choose to continue?
Mostly I had a tough time buying that married women cover our hair to thwart amorous male advances. The thought of some poor sot plowing into a bridge abutment because he caught sight of my limp salt-and-pepper tresses struck me as just plain silly.
That’s when I woke up to hair covering not to control men but to protect the sanctity of your personal space. Setting apart a private space a woman claims for herself (to share to not to share depending on her unique situation)? Now that made sense to me. I’ve recently learned that, metaphysically speaking, each hair is a small radio tower, a filament capable of both broadcasting your thoughts into the atmosphere and pulling the vibes from your environment directly into your consciousness. And maybe that kind of free and involuntary information exchange isn’t always what we want or need.
Mostly it was the guys’ understanding of kippah that worked for me. The something that’s always above your head serves as a reminder that the Master of the Universe is higher than we are, no matter how smart and successful we are, or how caught up we are in navigating in the materialistic world we function in 24/6.
Seven years in, I’m glad I studied the texts, glad I wrestled with the issue and was able to reach an understanding of the why’s. But, I also have a confession to make: Despite all this cogitation going on under the hat, at the end of the day, I cover my hair just because it … feels … right.
Walking through the city and catching sight of my hatted self reflected in a store window, I feel this protective ring of privacy and G-d’s quiet presence. It’s something I can share with Jewish women around the world, my great-grandmothers and the river of Jewish women throughout our long and storied past.
Happy Ending: It didn’t take long for Gabrielle’s response to my beef: an invitation to write this piece and an edit to her original blog which now reads: “What if a Modern Orthodox woman chooses to wear a wig or headscarf?”
Or, far more likely, based on my experience, what if the wig, the headscarf (or the Red Sox cap) simply chooses her?
How to cite this page
Raub, Deborah Fineblum. "Undercover." 15 August 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/under-cover>.